California Supreme Court to Address De Minimis Time
Topics: Wage & Hour Issues
Last week, the California Supreme Court agreed to review Troester v. Starbucks, a case involving the issue of whether de minimis work time must be compensated under California law. In Troester, the plaintiff was a former employee of Starbucks who sued the coffee giant because he was not paid for certain closing-related activities such as time spent walking out of the store after activating the alarm and time spent locking the door—activities that took a minute or two and effectively had to be performed after the plaintiff clocked out on Starbucks' timekeeping software. Plaintiff sued for unpaid wages under California law. A federal district court in California granted summary judgment in favor of Starbucks, ruling that this “work” time was de minimis and that Plaintiff was not owed compensation for it. Plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Rather than decide the issue on the merits, the Ninth Circuit certified the issue to the California Supreme Court (because the issue is one of California law). Specifically, the Ninth Circuit asked the state high court for its opinion on whether California law recognizes a de minimis standard similar to the de minimis standard that has been recognized and applied under the Fair Labor Standards Act for decades. Last week, the California Supreme Court agreed to decide this issue for the Ninth Circuit.
Although a decision likely is a year or more away, it will provide useful guidance for California employers and for California employment law practitioners. There is no reason why the de minimis doctrine should not apply under California law, just as it does under the FLSA. Indeed, the state's Department of Labor Standards Enforcement itself has endorsed the de minimis standard. However, many plaintiffs' lawyers nonetheless argue that California wage and hour law is more protective of employees than the FLSA and that California does not recognize a de minimis standard whereby de minimis time worked need not be compensated. Stay tuned to see how the California Supreme Court decides the issue.